Pétain, Henri Philippe (1856–1951), a French army officer. Pétain became a national hero during World War I for his successful defense of the key fortress of Verdun. In 1940, following the fall of France, Pétain signed an armistice with the Germans and assumed dictatorial powers as head of the pro-Axis Vichy regime. He died in disgrace.

Pétain graduated from the military academy of Saint-Cyr in 1878. At the outbreak of World War I he was a colonel, but rose in rank rapidly. In 1916 he took command of French forces defending Verdun against a German offensive. Despite 350,000 casualties, the French held the citadel, vowing "They shall not pass!"

In 1917, Pétain was made commander in chief of the French army, then on the verge of mutiny. Pétain managed to restore order within a month. In 1918 he led the French to victory, under the Allied supreme commander, Marshal Foch. He was made a marshal in late 1918.

Pétain was vice president of the supreme war council, 1920–30, and inspector general of the army, 1922–31. He was elected to the French Academy in 1929 and was war minister in 1934. During 1939–40 he was ambassador to Spain.

In 1940 Pétain was appointed vice president of the government council and a minister of state. He opposed moving the government into exile when the fall of France became apparent, and was appointed premier on June 16 at the age of 84. The armistice that he signed placed Germany in occupation of most of the country. Pétain formed a government at Vichy and proclaimed himself chief of state.

Pétain's regime was authoritarian and subservient to Germany. He and his premier, Pierre Laval, issued anti-Semitic laws, turned political refugees over to the Nazis, and allowed the deportation of Frenchmen to work in German factories. When the Germans occupied all France in November, 1942, Pétain, by then quite senile, became little more than a puppet.

Pétain was tried in 1945, and found guilty of collaboration with the enemy. He was condemned to death, but President de Gaulle commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. Pétain died at the age of 95.